The Inner Self, Soul, and Atman: Upanishad Philosophy

I have found that by far, throughout my personal philosophical journey, I have never found more profound and meaningful words than those that came from the Eastern philosophers.

While I find bountiful and authentic truths in the writings of other philosophers, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the one defining factor for me that sets the two apart is how these philosophers, in their different cultural doctrines, believe one may find the ultimate truth of reality.

For instance, the pre-Socratics taught that we can discover the truth of the universe by analyzing the outer world around us.

On the other hand, the Upanishad philosophers believed that the ultimate truth can be found if we look within ourselves.

The Upanishad philosophers are those that study the Upanishads, “a collection of texts of religious and philosophical nature, written in India probably between c. 800 BCE and c. 500 BCE, during a time when Indian society started to question the traditional Vedic religious order,” according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Something interesting that my philosophy teacher told the class one day is that if you were to ask American children where they believed God to exist, they would point upwards. Here in Western society, it is normal to imagine God as a wise old man who sits on a throne up in Heaven, which resides above the sky. Yet if you were to ask the same question to children in India, their natural inclination is to point to themselves – their chests, where their heart beats.

Though I have spent my entire life in Western society, I find the Eastern view of God and the universe to be far more fulfilling and gratifying than the former, because although I find the universe itself to be mysterious and full of things to be learned from, I also believe that we already have everything we need, as we are literally made of the same divine energy that powers the universe.

So, if Eastern philosophy teaches us that God and everything can already be found within us, what exactly does that mean about ourselves? Or shall I say, our inner selves?

In my view, it means that we are, quite literally, one with the universe and God. It is God’s energy that flows through each and every one of us. That makes us apart of God. We are divine beings, connected at all times with celestial life force energy.

The Hindus call that part of ourselves the “Atman” – a Sanskrit word meaning “inner self” or “soul”. It is our true eternal self, or the primary essence of an individual. The Atman is also what connects us with “Brahman” which means “world soul” or “cosmic soul” – the ultimate divine reality. The Hindus believe, therefore, that the Atman is one with Brahman.

How do the Upanishads ultimately serve to teach us, however?

By allowing us to gain the wisdom and fundamental knowledge to better understand the metaphysical schemes of our inner selves, the Atman within us, and our souls, so that we may connect ourselves to the ultimate reality, God, or Brahman, and experience inner peace and harmony.

According to most spiritual enthusiasts, this can be done through deep trance meditation and hypnosis. You may find, during meditation, that you reach a state of mental bliss and pure relaxation. This is your connection with the energy of God and the universe. It may even be done through breath work – breathing deeply and in strategic ways for long periods of time. Overall, fully understanding this connection we have with the divine essence will likely only happen when we reach enlightenment, or at least a state of absolute knowing or understanding. But doing so takes time and dedication to one’s spiritual journey.

Exploring your spirituality is a beautiful process, but it also can be a weary one if you feel like you are getting nowhere. When you feel this, remember and recognize your inner self, your divine energy, and know that no matter what, you are held in the palm of the universe, and you can ask for help, physically or spiritually, at any time.

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